Yamaḥ: The Path to Self-Control and Harmony

Yamaḥ, a term deeply rooted in Hindu culture, often evokes a powerful image of Lord Yama, the controller of all beings and the embodiment of death. However, it also holds a significant meaning as a value to be followed, an aspect of Aśṭānga-yoga, and a practice of meditation according to Vedānta. Yamaḥ, in its essence, represents self-control and serves as a guiding principle for leading a harmonious life.

Patanjali's five yamas of yoga infographics for spiritual growth in ashtanga yoga

सर्वं ब्रह्मेति विज्ञानादिन्द्रियग्रामसंयमः यमोऽयमिति॔ ॥ संप्रोक्तोऽभ्यसनीयो मुहुर्मुहुः ॥ १०४ ॥
sarvam brahmeti vijñānād-indriyagrāma-samyamaḥ, yamo’yamiti samprokto ‘bhyasaniyo muhurmuhuh.(104)

सर्वम् all; ब्रह्म Truth; (अस्ति – is) ;  इति विज्ञानात् from such knowledge;  इन्द्रियग्रामसंयमः the restraint of all the senses;  यम इति – as yama ; अयम this ;  संर्पोक्तः  is rightly called;   सः (this);  अभ्यसनीय: shoul practised; मुहुर्मुहु-repeatedly

The restraint of all the senses by means of such knowledge as ‘All this is Truth is rightly called yamah, which should be practised again and again.

The concept of yamaḥ emphasizes the restraint of our senses through the understanding that “All this is Truth.” By recognizing this fundamental truth, we can navigate the external world with a sense of control and purpose. Our sense organs are naturally inclined to focus on external stimuli, but by practicing yamaḥ, we learn to redirect our attention inward, gaining a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

Unrestrained senses can lead to disastrous consequences, both for ourselves and others. Like a chariot pulled by uncontrolled horses, unchecked desires and impulsive actions can cause harm and create negative emotions within ourselves and those around us. For instance, the use of abusive language not only hurts others but also generates negativity within ourselves. Similarly, an uncontrolled desire for someone else’s possessions can lead to detrimental outcomes for all parties involved.

Each step of Aśṭānga-yoga emphasizes a different aspect of our lives and personalities. Yamaḥ, the practice of controlling our senses, highlights the importance of living in harmony with others. As individuals, we are part of various social structures, including families, societies, nations, and mankind as a whole. By following the value of yamaḥ, we cultivate sensitivity and purify our interactions with others, leading to harmony in the world.

Damaḥ, or yamaḥ, is considered one of the six-fold wealth (ṣaḍ sampatti) of a human being. Just as a well-brought-up child refrains from using abusive language even when provoked, the discipline of yamaḥ becomes internalized and effortless. The five sub-aspects of yamaḥ further elucidate its principles: ahimsā (non-injury), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacarya (continence), and aparigraha (non-hoarding).

Ahimsā, the practice of non-injury, encourages us to refrain from causing harm to any living being, both physically and emotionally.
Satya, or truthfulness, emphasizes the importance of honesty and integrity in our thoughts, words, and actions.
Asteya, the principle of non-stealing, urges us to respect the property and possessions of others, avoiding any form of theft or exploitation.
Brahmacarya, the practice of continence, encourages us to channel our energy and desires in a balanced and controlled manner. Lastly,
Aparigraha, the concept of non-hoarding, teaches us to let go of excessive material possessions and attachments, fostering a sense of contentment and detachment.

By embracing the values of yamaḥ and incorporating them into our daily lives, we can cultivate self-control, sensitivity, and harmony. Yamaḥ serves as a guiding light, reminding us of our interconnectedness and the importance of living in alignment with universal truths. As Lord Kṛṣṇa stated, “Amongst all the factors that control, self-control (yamaḥ) is the glory of the Lord.” Let us strive to embody this glory and contribute to a more harmonious and compassionate world.

Remember, yamaḥ is not just a concept associated with Lord Yama; it is a value that can transform our lives and lead us towards self-realization and inner peace.